London is a filmmaker’s dream – rich in history, characters and charm, it’s a vibrant and complex setting for films in any number of genres, but especially for tales of romance. With its misty streets, cosy pubs and constant reminders of days gone by, it’s a brilliant backdrop for stories of love lost and found – and the teeming lives of its millions of inhabitants are a source of constant inspiration for cinematic storytellers.
At this most romantic time of year, we’ve put together a list of our favourite romantic movies set in London, as well as some of the featured locations which you can still visit today. Read on to revisit your favourite romantic London films, or discover some new favourites…
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Perfectly capturing both the romance of Elizabethan London and the allure of the theatre, Shakespeare in Love follows a young William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) as he struggles with writer’s block while attempting to complete his latest play. He falls in love with Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), a noblewoman who, inspired by a love of theatre and verse, secretly auditions for a role in the play. As they carry out their secret and ultimately doomed affair, he is inspired to write the tragic romance Romeo and Juliet.
Visible in the film are panoramic shots of the River Thames at Barnes Bridge, and Will is seen praying in the church of St Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield. Meanwhile, the Middle Temple Great Hall in Holborn stands in for Queen Victoria’s Palace at Whitehall (which once stood on a site now partially occupied by The Royal Horseguards Hotel). Although it did not feature in the film, it’s also worth visiting Shakespeare’s Globe theatre for an authentic taste of Elizabethan theatre.
Love, Actually (2003)
A heart-warming romantic comedy that traces the intertwined stories of a group of Londoners as they grapple with all the joys, sorrows, and bittersweet misunderstandings that love can bring, Love, Actually frequently tops polls of favourite British films. The film opens and closes with shots of actual travellers at Heathrow Airport, and in between it features a dazzling array of London locations large and small.
These include the legendary Selfridges & Co. department store on Oxford Street (where Harry, played by Alan Rickman, is waited on by Rowan Atkinson’s overly-conscientious shop assistant) and the Grosvenor Chapel on South Audley Street (where Peter and Juliet, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Keira Knightley, celebrate their wedding to the Beatles tune “All You Need is Love”). Later we see Mark (Andrew Lincoln) profess his love for Juliet via cue cards outside her door at 27 St. Luke’s Mews in Notting Hill, and many of the characters attend a children’s nativity play at Elliott School (now ARK Putney Academy) in Putney.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Everyone’s favourite singleton entertained and inspired a generation of young single women in the quest for someone who loves them just as they are. Bridget (Renee Zellweger)’s rocky romance with dashing playboy Daniel Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is exciting and fun, but it’s when she finally hooks up with the dreamy Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) that viewers’ hearts properly melted.
In the film Bridget’s flat is shown as above the Globe Pub in Borough Market. The entrance is via Bedale Street, which is also home to Bedales, a wine shop that played the Greek restaurant through whose window Daniel and Mark crashed during their epic fight scene. Bridget’s nearly ill-fated attempt at court reporting takes place outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, and her ultra-romantic kiss with Mark in the snow takes place outside the Royal Exchange Buildings in Cornhill.
Sliding Doors (1998)
Gwyneth Paltrow plays lead character Helen in this film about the power of minor choices to shape our lives. The film follows storylines in two parallel universes, one in which Helen manages to catch her tube train, and another in which she just misses it. In the story in which she makes the train, she meets James (John Hannah), and eventually falls in love with him after learning her current boyfriend is cheating. In the second universe, she carries on with her boyfriend, only to learn about his infidelity much later – but perhaps fate will bring her back to James?
As an integral part of the plot, the London Underground features prominently in Sliding Doors. Helen supposedly misses her train at Embankment station, but while Embankment’s exterior is visible in the film, the interiors are shot at Waterloo and Bank stations. Later scenes also feature Fulham Broadway, as well as shots of the Thames near Hammersmith Bridge.
One Day (2011)
One Day is the story of Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess), who meet at university in Edinburgh and remain friends throughout all the ups and downs of life before eventually falling in love. The film (and the best-selling novel on which it is based) follow the unique format of revisiting the characters on the same day each year, lending an epic scale to the story as the characters’ lives progress and they gradually find their way back together.
Although the film is set in several cities, London does feature prominently. Emma is seen swimming at the beautiful art-deco style Parliament Hill Lido, and she and boyfriend Ian (Rafe Spall) go on a date at the edgy Rio Cinema. The elegant Lady Chapel in Westminster Cathedral also features in a wedding scene in the film.
What are your favourite romantic films set in London?